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Keeping your drivers

TORONTO, Ont. - Kelly Anderson, the amiable Texan and president of Impact Transportation Solutions, returned to Canada this year to once again headline the Canadian Recruiting and Retention Conference...


TORONTO, Ont. – Kelly Anderson, the amiable Texan and president of Impact Transportation Solutions, returned to Canada this year to once again headline the Canadian Recruiting and Retention Conference hosted by Over the Road magazine.

He brought with him a Texas-sized serving of new tips and anecdotes aimed at helping recruiters and operations managers contend with the challenges of recruiting – and most importantly, retaining – professional drivers.

Can you be trusted?

Anderson told delegates that “trust is the foundation of everything in life” and that a trusting relationship directly results in higher productivity. As a consultant to many major trucking companies, Anderson admitted “I see a broken trust system within the walls of carriers.”

He said it often begins with the recruiters, who aren’t always truthful when trying to lure drivers into their organization.

Anderson said trust must be established at the first point of contact with a potential recruit and then maintained through the orientation process and beyond. Make sure the driver receives the same message from the recruiter, through orientation and then in operations, Anderson insisted.

“With trust, productivity and job satisfaction increases,” he pointed out.

Once a driver has signed on with your company, Anderson said it’s important to foster an environment of open communication. He said it’s all too common for employees to play the blame game when things go wrong.

“As long as we continue to place the blame, we’re going to continue to have the same problems,” he said.

No matter what a driver does in the course of his or her work, it’s crucial the carrier keeps up its end of the bargain, Anderson said.

“No matter what he does, we should always do what we said we were going to do,” he said. That means giving a driver the benefit of a doubt should he get himself into trouble.

“A totally intelligent person with half the information can make a bad decision,” he pointed out. “Talk to that person about what happened and you may find they made the right decision.”

Anderson said one of the biggest problems in the trucking industry is that trust is never developed between the driver and the fleet manager.

“Meet them early in orientation,” he suggested. “Have a cup of coffee and discuss mutual expectations. We have to start instilling trust back into our workplace.”

Anderson warned against micro-managing in the absence of trust.

“When you don’t have trust, you try to micro-manage and that brings progress to a screeching halt,” he said. “There’s only so many things you can do in a day. Empower your people and trust them.”

Anderson described a trucking company as a wheel with each department representing a spoke, all joining in the middle.

He suggested improving inter-department communication by creating a bi-annual training schedule requiring each department to sit in on a driver orientation session.

Anderson worked with one large US-based trucking company that saw its turnover rate drop from 72% to 45% simply by bringing drivers in on a regular basis after orientation to follow up on how they were doing.

The number one reason drivers leave companies is due to lack of appreciation, according to Anderson.

He suggested operations managers aim to “make somebody’s day every day.” He recalled a story of a fleet manager who kept a coin in one pocket and each day he would switch the coin to the opposite pocket only after he had made someone’s day.

Instead of just thanking a driver for a job well done in the heat of battle, for instance, follow that up with a more heartfelt thank-you the next day, “after the fire is out and the smoke has cleared.”

What to do when

they’re gone

Despite your best efforts to reduce driver turnover, it’s the nature of the business that some drivers will ultimately move on. But with a proper exit interview strategy and follow-up, it’s possible to recover up to 60% of those drivers, Anderson pointed out.

If a fleet manager has a finger on the pulse of his company, it should come as no surprise when a driver quits, said Anderson.

“It’s crazy for a fleet manager to be surprised that a driver is going to quit. You should know who’s at risk and who is not,” he said.

The problem is, “We talk at our drivers every day, we don’t talk to our drivers every day.”

Anderson said the operations department should be removed from the exit interview process. Instead, leave it to safety or recruiting to find out what went wrong, he suggested.

About 80% of drivers leave a company because of a lousy relationship with their dispatcher, Anderson pointed out. However, it’s rare for a driver to confess his true feelings during the exit interview itself.

“What they tell you at the exit interview, you can take with a tablespoon of salt,” he said. “During the exit interview, their number one objective is to get out of your office – they’ve rehearsed their answers. If you make changes based on the exit interviews, you’re making changes based on bad data.”

To get the truth, Anderson said fleets should send out a postcard 30 days after the driver has left, with a questionnaire on the back asking questions such as: Was your equipment satisfactory?; Were you able to get home timely?; Was your manager helpful?; and Would you consider working for us again?

A few months later, Anderson suggested fleets send a handwritten ‘re-hire’ letter, offering the driver the opportunity to return to your company.

In working with large US truckload carrier CFI, Anderson found about 50% of drivers would later return to drive for the company.

“You won’t get them all back,” he admitted. “I find there’s a direct relationship to how big a dirtbag you are. The more rude and crude the fleet manager, the lower the return you’ll get.”


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